Weeks after the rightwing thinktank Adam Smith Institute declared the government’s free schools policy doomed to failure unless the already ideologically persuaded Michael Gove took their advice and threw open the doors to profit-making companies to run schools comes another bastion of privilege to do more of the Education Secretary’s dirty work. Step forward The Rev John Witheridge, Headmaster of Charterhouse School, curate Luton Parish Church 1979-82, head of religious studies and asst chaplain Marlborough Coll 1982-84, chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury 1984-87, conduct (sr chaplain) Eton Coll 1987-96, govr: Brambletye Sch 2009-, Clifton Coll 2009-; FRSA 1998. (Debretts)
Charterhouse (fees about £25,000), is drooled over in Tatler magazine’s list of recommended schools - “one of the great historic public schools of England and the proud owner of some pretty swoonworthy buildings: glorious cloisters, honey-coloured turrets et al.” Well, obviously not suffering from the abolition of BSF funds then it wouldn’t have qualified, not being a state school. I can’t see that John Witheridge has had much – if any – experience of working in state schools but this hasn’t stopped this holy man from loudly and publicly commenting that the Coalition’s pledge of a radical programme of educational reform of state schools will fail unless Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is prepared to consider the reintroduction of academic selection.
So the policies aren’t going to fail because they are inherently bad but because they aren’t pandering enough to commercial interests or to social segregation. If Jesus was a Socialist, he would surely be wondering if his crucifixion had been in vain as he listens to one of his servants on Earth pontificating with the fury of the self-righteous that the introduction of mixed ability schooling was a “regrettable and damaging political step, inspired not by good educational practice, sense or experience, but by socialist dogma”.
Perhaps Witheridge, in his haste to claim his place amongst the Establishment, has forgotten that he is a man of the cloth otherwise he might realise that the comments he has made and reported with admirable bombast by the Daily Telegraph
resonate with the dissonant twin chimes of hypocrisy and exclusion, not virtues expounded by the Church, surely, in anyone’s experience? He trots out the usual mantra that selection is a good thing, that poor but bright kids can get a better chance in life, that parents really want this, that lefty dogma is holding back social mobility etc. but ultimately it is rhetoric that conceals the rather uglier truth that admission and academic selection = social and class segregation.
Witheridge says the abolition of academic selection in most of England has led to a “loss of opportunities at both ends of the spectrum” as bright children are left to coast and practically-minded pupils miss out on decent skills training. Or put another way – selection means the few lucky enough to pass what the present rightwing government deems the right sort of examination can go onto a decent life and the rest can, well, serve them as mechanics, plumbers and hairdressers. What an unholy alliance.
Hilariously and crassly, he sermonises that “It’s interesting…that programmes like The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, and award ceremonies like the Oscars, are so popular in a society which is supposed to despise selection”. But these programmes have got nothing to do with academic selection at age 11 or 13, they are talent shows which contestants are not compelled to submit themselves to and, unlike grammar or private schools, the entertainment industry is open to anyone of any background or academic ability sufficiently stage-struck to want to give it a go and wait to be given the ovation or the hook.
According to The Telegraph, The Rev John Witheridge will deliver this lecture – the first in the series of Charterhouse Quatercentenary Lectures - at 6.30pm on Wednesday, May 11, at St James's Church, 197 Piccadilly, London.
Tickets are £7. Hooks are free.